Family History Library Catalog 2.0

This morning at a very small press conference in Kansas City at the National Genealogical Society annual conference we made a very large announcement.

In fact, we announced something that I have personally hoped for and dreamed of for more than a decade.

Today we announced a partnership between FamilySearch and FamilyLink.com to publish the Family History Library Catalog — the largest single database of genealogy sources in the world — in Web 2.0 fashion.

This means that individual genealogists, librarians, archivists, and others from around the world will be able, when the Catalog 2.0 comes online in the coming months, to enhance and extend the value of the catalog. Users will be able to add new sources that are currently in the library catalog, and thus extend its scope of coverage. They will be able to improve the source descriptions, and even rate and review sources as to their usefulness.

Whenever a source listed in the catalog has been digitized, and exists somewhere online, there will be links created to the digital version by users or through automation technology that FamilyLink.com will utilize.

The catalog lists millions of sources from more than a hundred countries, including more than 2 million rolls of microfilm. About.com genealogy guide Kimberly Powell calls it the "gem of the Family History Library," and "the best resource on the FamilySearch web site."

The Genealogical Society of Utah has been microfilming valuable records from all over the world since 1939. The catalog lists all of these films, and organizes them by locality and record type. Some of the records that have been filmed have since been destroyed by war or accident, and so the films become the only surviving copy of the valuable records. And the films themselves are preserved in the famous Granite Mountain Vault.

The catalog also lists books, periodicals, maps, and all kinds of other holdings in the world’s largest family history library (in Salt Lake City) that would otherwise be unknown and unused.

As I said earlier, I have wanted to work with the catalog for more than a decade. I think it is one of the most valuable tools in the world for family history, and I think it can become more accessible and more useful to millions of people worldwide, who don’t yet know that it exists or how to best use it.

When we founded Ancestry.com in 1996-97, our vision was to digitize the genealogical records in all nations and make them available online. We saw the catalog playing a key role in that vision.

I had started a Masters Degree program at BYU in Library Science back in 1990 (although I had to drop out early to focus on my electronic pubishing business.) I have a great respect for libraries and library science. After all, the accessibility to most of the world’s information, prior to the internet, came because of the organizational skills and care of libraries and archives around the world.

I had also watched as the founders of Yahoo began to turn an online classification system for web sites into a multi-billion dollar company. Until Google came along, Yahoo was the most valuable of all web sites. Why? Because it catalogued all the rest. It could be the starting point for all queries, even before search had been perfected, when browsing was one of the dominant activities on the web.

We made several attempts over the years to see if we might be able to license and publish the catalog. But the timing must not have been right. Until Web 2.0 and social networking came on the scene, I’m not sure what value we would have been able to add to it, so our attempts were not successful.

But today, I’m overjoyed that my new company, FamilyLink.com, will have the privilege of working with this precious asset in partnership with FamilySearch, to develop the next generation version of the catalog, that will become more comprehensive, more open, more accurate, and provide more intelligent, algorithmic guidance to sources for family historians worldwide.

Since only a tiny fraction of the known genealogical content in the world is in digital format today, the catalog serves an incredibly valuable purpose, directing researchers to offline sources including microfims that contain the answers they are looking for. (And those microfilms can be accessed from over 4,500 family history centers around the world, for a very small fee.)

As more and more sources become transcribed or digitized, the catalog will directly link to the online version, whether they exist on Ancestry.com, WorldVitalRecords.com, FamilySearch.org, Footnote.com, NEHGS.org, or on Google Books, Microsoft Live Books, USGenWeb, WorldGenWeb, or other web sites, saving researchers countless time.

The new catalog, which will be available via both FamilyLink.com and FamilySearch.org in the future, may become the single best starting point for family history searches, the way Yahoo used to be the best place to find any web site, and may help any researcher quickly see which sources will help the most, and which other researchers have used those sources previously.

This project will bring the "wisdom of the crowds" to genealogy in a way that has never been possible before, showing which of the sources for any locality in the world ought to be consulted, and in what order.

I want to thank everyone who made this announcement possible, including those who have worked on the catalog for many years to make it the wonderful resource that it already is, and those who have been designing the next version of it, as well as the decision makers at FamilySearch who believe with us in what is possible for this catalog.

In addition to what has been described above, how would you like to see the catalog enhanced? What would make it most useful to you personally, or to your institution?

As always, I welcome your comments and feedback.

Official Press Release

17 Comments

  1. Andy E. Wold

    I would love to see the ability to select several microfilms/books in various catalog entries, and have the system print out a simple Research Log or Check List for my research projects. (sorting them by place, subject, media type, or shelf number)

  2. Andy E. Wold

    Another thing I would love to see is the ability to have the Source information for a single microfilm in a series.

    Very confusing to figure out which of several hundred microfilms on a Source printout sheet was the microfilm you searched. And do I really also need to know which microfilm contains “Zyx through Zzz”?!

    To have the Source printed out in a simple Chicago or Turbian style code would be a nice addition, and very easy to do. Copy-and-paste is a nightmare on the current FHL Catalog, even for just the two-line microfilm number (why is it even two separate lines?!)

    FHL US/CAN Film
    26757

    No one would ever write it that way.

  3. and I hope you will inergrate with the OCLC too

    http://www.oclc.org/worldcat/default.htm much family history there

    “WorldCat is the world’s most comprehensive database of library materials. Updated at a rate of nearly one new record every 10 seconds, WorldCat contains bibliographic records and holdings contributed by more than 9,000 libraries around the world.”

    “OCLC and Google to exchange data, link digitized books to WorldCat

    OCLC and Google Inc. have signed an agreement to exchange data that will facilitate the discovery of library collections through Google search services.

    Under terms of the agreement, OCLC member libraries participating in the Google Book Search™ program, which makes the full text of more than one million books searchable, may share their WorldCat-derived MARC records with Google to better facilitate discovery of library collections through Google. Google will link from Google Book Search to WorldCat.org, which will drive traffic to library OPACs and other library services. Google will share data and links to digitized books with OCLC, which will make it possible for OCLC to represent the digitized collections of OCLC member libraries in WorldCat.”

    Brigham Young University was one of the pioneers of google books

    eg
    http://books.google.com/books?hl=en&q=brigham%20young

    regards

    Hugh W

  4. “In addition to what has been described above, how would you like to see the catalog enhanced?”

    the standard interface to local library catalogues

    for example I went into Solihull Central Library (UK) to order this book on inter library loan-

    Aldridge, Bertha Bortle Beal,.
    Laphams in America : thirteen thousand descendents including descendents of John from Devonshire, England, to Providence, R.I., 1673 :
    Thomas from Kent, England, to Scituate, Mass., 1634 : and genealogical notes of other Lapham families.
    Victor, N.Y.?: , 1953

    There is no copy in UK so the British Library http://www.bl.uk/ borrowed a set of fiche from a US University for me and I was not allowed to take them home but read them every day at the library

    http://content.ancestry.com/iexec/?htx=BookList&dbid=19594
    was unknown to me and the librarian

    AND there was a copy in house
    http://content.ancestrylibrary.com/iexec/?htx=BookList&dbid=19594

    You are here: Search > Stories, Memories & Histories > Laphams in America : thirteen thousand descendents including descendents of John from Devonshire, England, to Providence, R.I.,

    BTW if you search ancestry.com for this
    LAPHAM does not find it
    only LAPHAMS or LAPHAM* do.

    in a few years time It will all be in my LAPHAM one-name study
    http://wc.rootsweb.ancestry.com/cgi-bin/igm.cgi?db=lapham

  5. Great news. I was reading recently about the Church’s new system they’re coming out with soon. Sounds like it’s going to be very robust and super valuable!

  6. Paul,

    Does this mean that the Catalog will include links to databases or documents that are NOT on the FHLC? For instance, a cemetery list, or a blog post, or a message board post?

    Your statement above “…the catalog will directly link to the online version, whether they exist on …” seems to imply that it will, but I just wanted to make sure.

    This is excellent news – THANK YOU for the vision to see how this could work and I hope that it happens soon!

    Regards — Randy Seaver

  7. paulballen

    Randy,

    Yes, the vision is to link the Catalog to all databases and sources, regardless of whether they are currently in the FHLC or in the library in Salt Lake or not.

    However, linking to blog posts or message board posts is not something we have contemplated doing as part of the Catalog project, though certainly it’s something we plan to do in the future as part of our web-wide genealogy indexing.

    Rather, the library catalog enhancements will focus on making it a more comprehensive, worldwide catalog with links to actual data wherever it exists, on any site. The goal is to catalog eventually every genealogy source in the world, not just the ones held in a particular library.

  8. One more thing – your wrote “Users will be able to add new sources that are currently in the library catalog, and thus extend its scope of coverage.”

    Did you mean that “users will be able to add new sources that are NOT currently in the library catalog…”? How else would they extend the coverage?

    Presumably, this would entail some sort of editorial control.

    Cheers — Randy Seaver

  9. paulballen

    Yes, the family history library staff in Salt Lake City will have oversight of the additions and enhancements to the catalog, to keep it high quality. The details of exactly how that will happen will be worked out soon.

  10. Sue

    I would like a version of the FHL catalog that lists local Family History Centers where microfilms are held on indefinite loan. The catalog on CD included that function, and I miss it. Even with the price of gas, it’s sometimes quicker and more fun to take road trips to nearby family history centers than to wait for a new microfilm order to arrive.

  11. BradJackman

    Will the new Catalog be able to store uploaded images of books or information scanned by the user? I have a copy of an old family history book that I have scanned, and would like to make it accessible, although I’d like to place it somewhere more permanent than my little personal webpage. Having the option to “donate” digital material to the library would be a great addition in my mind.

    I’m also excited for the opportunity to comment on microfilm and books already inthe collection, to give researchers down the line a heads up.

    I know this isn’t part of your project, but I would love the opportunity to pick which digitized film I will transcribe with FamilySearch Indexing, or request that a particular film be scanned so I can transcribe it.

    Thanks for this initiative, we’re behind you all the way.

  12. Randy Wilson

    Paul,

    The suggestion about hooking into OCLC/WorldCat is an excellent one. Whenever someone–either FamilySearch, FamilyLink, or an end user–finds that a source listed in FHLC is also listed in OCLC/WorldCat, it would make sense to add a link to keep track of that. It may also make sense to become one of the libraries that is contributing to OCLC so that the rest of the world is more hooked into the FHLC’s sources as well.

    Up to now, it appears that the FHLC has been a catalog of sources that are in the LDS church’s holdings, i.e. books it has in its library or films it has in its archives. I have been hoping that it would expand to include every genealogical source that anyone has heard of, so that it can start serving as the master “to do” list of genealogical work. As long as there are sources out there with the potential to have new genealogical information in them, then we know what else we still need to do–namely, gain access to those sources, evaluate whether they’ve got useful data, and then extracting the data and eventually linking the data into genealogical databases such as those at Ancestry or new FamilySearch.

    If we start letting users add sources to the catalog as they find new ones that aren’t in there, we’ll need to give them the ability to search to make sure they’re not in the in the first place; then we’ll need a way for them to describe the source in a way that would make it likely that others would be able to find the entry if they ever come across the same source. Then when someone has a source that they think they should pull some genealogical data out of, they could first check the catalog and see if it is already listed in there. If not, they could add it. But if it is already in there, they could avoid duplicating that work. Instead, they could see what has been done with the source already. Has it been scanned, and are the images already available? Has it been indexed/extracted? Have the extracted names already been linked into the tree the person is interested in (e.g., new FamilySearch)? As soon as the answer is “no”, then they have something they can probably do to help. If the answer is “yes”, then they have avoided duplicating various types of effort.

    Eventually there will be cases where we have gotten the same source more than once entered into the catalog. Already we have books in there and microfilms of those same books. The new FHLC should allow links or relationships between soures to be added by users (or at least recommended by users). Then, for example, if one microfilm has been scanned and indexed, the relationship from the book to the item on the microfilm would let everyone know that the book does not need to be scanned and indexed, because the film of it already was.

  13. I would love to see this catalog also represent digitized newspaper collections and where they are available online! I have a dream of creating such a directory myself, but simply do not have the time. Additionally, I would love to see some geocoding of the resources that are in the catalog so some interesting maps could be displayed. Looking forward to learning more!

  14. Carol Burke

    Please! Please! Will someone tell me how to access the list of foreign civil microflim records that are indexed/listed in the Family HIstory LIbrary Catalog. I once used the on-line listing to learn the microflim numbers so my local FHC could order them for me., Many sites imply that one can access the catalog, but I have not yet found one despite visiting many sites. As I type this plea for help, I have in front of me an old list ( of foreign civil records, Italian village) extracted from the catalogn/listings many years ago. Can’t find my way there today. Help Help

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